New govt not interested in games; has strong India-first policy: Maldives Minister

New Delhi : Former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen tried to play India and China against each other, but the new government of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has a strong “India-first policy” and was not interested in playing such games, the country’s Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said on Tuesday.

He siad even as India was the closest and most-trusted friend of the Maldives, the new government in the island nation was open to engaging with other countries, including China.

“President Yameen, during his five years in office, tried to play China against India, and India against China. He thought he could become a puppet-master. He thought the greatest two countries in Asia could be his puppets. He failed miserably,” Shahid said during a press conference in Delhi.

“Our government will not try to play one country against the other. We have a strong India-first policy, but we will also get engaged with all countries and we will be ready to do business with them,” he said.

“Our message is very clear: India is our closest and most trusted friend and neighbour. We are committed to re-igniting the India-Maldives friendship and relationship, reaching new horizons, exploring new avenues while strengthening existing links,” he said.

Shahid, along with Maldives’ Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer and Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail, was on a two-day visit to India to discuss a range of issues including economic, social and defence cooperation. The new government took reigns of the island country last week.

Shahid said the Maldives was immediately looking for India to help them on the budgetary constraints that they were facing.

“We have received very positive feedback from India… India has given us an assurance they will help us sustain and stabilise the budget. The modalities of the same are being worked out.

“We are also looking at India to lead in engaging with us on projects related to diversification of our economy. We want to vigorously engage with Indian business community on development of Indian economy,” he said.

During the visit, the Maldives recommitted itself to the 1979 visa agreement, with a plan to reviewing it in due course. It also assured India that stalled projects between the two countries would move forward.

“We also reaffirm our commitment to the peace and security of the Indian Ocean and our neighbourhood. We are committed to keeping the Indian Ocean safe and secure, and to working with India to combat terrorism in all its forms,” Shahid said.

On the Maldives looking into deals made with China, Shahid said while many of those deals were made in secrecy and were being reviewed, the island country continued to see China as a friend.

“The Free Trade Agreement (with China) was rushed through parliament… As foreign minister, I have asked my officials to review the document. We will publicly comment on it after the review is complete.”

“China has been generous to us. They have assisted us in a lot of projects, and the country has benefitted over the last 50 years through the generosity of China. It is one of the largest economies in the world and we cannot shy away from that reality. We will continue to engage ourselves with China. China is a friend,” he said.

The minister said the delegation’s visit would be followed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s visit to India on December 17, “with hope that such high-level exchanges would continue between the two countries”.

—IANS

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